Seven years have passed since the Sana’a Center’s first publication, and today we find Yemen at an inflection point. With a truce in place since April, the country is experiencing its longest sustained period of relative peace. The truce has been accompanied by a series of dramatic changes we have long advocated for, from overhauling the country’s political leadership to reopening Sana’a airport. But these gains are tenuous, and the threat of reversal is ever-present. The war in Ukraine has reverberated across the globe, adding to concerns over food security in Yemen and fears of further reductions in international support. Now is not the time for complacency, rather it is the moment at which we must redouble our efforts to ensure that progress is built upon, not squandered.
The Sana’a Center has grown in ways that seem almost unimaginable. Despite our massive growth, we have remained loyal to the original tenets of the organization. As a research center, we strike a careful balance to address both international and Yemeni audiences. But our work goes beyond research. We are building initiatives that put our ideas and values into practice. Our work hacks the system and disrupts outdated and narrow approaches to the Yemen conflict and challenges exclusionary multilateral systems. It is independent of vested interests, including those in the donor community, but open to all, including those with whom we may fundamentally disagree. And it is audacious, undertaking innovative action and standing up for humanitarian values, truth and the Yemeni people in one of the globe’s deadliest and most-divided environments.
We uphold the idea that Yemenis can and should control their own destinies and narrative, and work tirelessly to provide the convening power to make decisions on the future of our country. Sustainable peace depends not on the interests of foreign states or the intervention of the international community, nor the limited ambitions of the elites and militias that dominate local politics. It depends on Yemenis finding their voices and advocating for peace — voices we are committed to amplifying. The Sana’a Center matches this ambition by making the knowledge and insights of Yemenis available to decision-makers and the public, bringing together Yemenis from different backgrounds with different perspectives to talk and plan, and most importantly, holding all to account, no matter their power or influence, so that their policies and actions reflect the needs and future of the Yemeni people.
Over the last year, we have accomplished much, but three initiatives stand out as illustrating the best of the Sana’a Center.
The first Yemen International Forum, held in Stockholm in June 2022, represented the pinnacle of the center’s vision, providing an opportunity for Yemenis to convene and take the lead in planning the country’s future. More than 250 people, from different backgrounds and across the conflict’s divides, gathered with each other and with international representatives to speak together on the fate of the country. The forum sought to include the voices of all Yemenis, particularly those of minority and marginalized groups that are cut off from the political horse-trading that dominates in Yemen.
Our series of reports on the Yemen humanitarian response, published last October, was one of our largest research undertakings to date, pushing for greater accountability of the international response and challenging some of its principal methods. Our findings and recommendations were echoed in the recently published UN Interagency Humanitarian Evaluation of the Yemen Crisis, reinforcing the importance of local accountability and localization as the best guide for effective international intervention.
Last year also saw the Sana’a Center continue to lead in Track II peace initiatives, promoting the involvement of young people, women, tribes, security forces, intellectuals, political parties, civil society, and economic and development leaders, inside and outside Yemen. Our Yemen Peace Forum, a Track II youth and civil society platform, continues to invest in the next generation of Yemeni researchers and engage them in critical national issues. Rethinking Yemen’s Economy, a research and Track II initiative held with our partners, brings together Yemeni private sector actors with economic and development experts. Our initiative for eastern Yemen ensures local perspectives from historically marginalized areas are heard on the national and international stages. We have also engaged with regional actors, to encourage them to pursue further dialogue with Yemenis. Our Track II work reflects our belief that every Yemeni voice has the right to be heard, without privileging a specific set of values, ideas, or actions.
While we are proud to continue serving as the world’s window to Yemen and Yemen’s window to the world, we are also grateful that our model and courage have inspired similar Yemeni and non-Yemeni initiatives. We are committed to working with, mentoring and supporting such organizations, especially those who truly adopt local narratives and leadership in knowledge production.
Internally, we have continued to strengthen our capacity as a local organization with global reach and influence. We have almost 50 staff on the ground in Yemen, and a similar number working internationally. Critical to our work is our pool of field researchers, who face daily risks in order to inform the world about the realities and hardships of life in Yemen. We have strengthened the work of our teams by revising our governance body and institutional policies, mainstreaming gender equality, investing in new media such as podcasting and visual storytelling, and registering the center in Amman, complementing our institutional presence in Yemen, New York, London, and Geneva.
Externally, the Sana’a Center has pursued bold and novel approaches to sustainability, to ensure that we can continue to deliver impactful work in one of the world’s most difficult operating environments. We continue to refuse to engage with short-sighted frameworks that seek to impose international agendas and half-baked solutions at the expense of local visions, needs and priorities, or those who seek to use, rather than support, Yemenis.
To further build and sustain our resources, we are establishing a membership package to free us from the funding systems and allow those who believe in our mission and soul to support us directly. For the donors and partners who have taken the “risk” of believing in us and genuinely have supported local organizations directly, we will honor your trust.
A challenging and exciting year lies ahead. We are expanding our research agenda to include new issues, including the environment and climate change, and border and regional security. We are accelerating our support for inclusive dialogue through our ongoing Yemen Exchange course – which also has become a model on how to teach conflict sensitivity. We look forward to the inaugural Gulf Exchange focused on Yemen, Iran and GCC countries, the second Yemen International Forum, and the reflection on and redesigning of our Track II initiatives. We will continue to provide international media, decision-makers and peacebuilders with access to the latest information from the ground and top analysis from local experts. And we will continue to pursue accountability in all its forms, identifying parties who misuse aid and target civilians, foreign capitals that enact detrimental policies that undermine stability, and profiteers who manipulate the war economy to benefit from the suffering of the Yemeni people. Our recently launched report, The Week in Yemen, provides unparalleled analysis of key developments in the conflict and their implications for the peace process, and documents violations of human rights so that perpetrators may ultimately be held to account.
We are ready for the task ahead. Our bones are strong and our passion is more than ever. We are aware of our place in Yemen and on the world stage. And we can only hope that our work and youthful leadership and model will inspire others, especially future young generations, to believe in their capacity to catalyze change. But as we congratulate our team on their impressive work, we remember that by now our strength is in diversity and inclusivity rather than competitiveness, and in our openness and willingness to learn from, listen to, and collaborate with others.
We must never forget how privileged we are in these troubled times, across Yemen and the world, in being able to pursue our search for a better Yemen, and a better and more informed world.
Thank you for your readership, always.
The Sana’a Center Family